In a season of such frustration, the signings of Harvey Elliott and Thomas Kaminski have been two major success stories, and Blackburn Rovers will have been immensely grateful for that yet again here.
It was Elliott’s second half strike that gave Blackburn a very welcome second win in 16 games since the end of January here, in a game that Derby had led through Tom Lawrence before Sam Gallagher had hauled Rovers level at half time.
At the other end, Kaminski produced a string of vital saves to help Rovers secure those three points, both before and after they had taken the lead, to prevent their visitors running away with a win that having become yet another defeat, now leaves Derby with their Championship status for next season firmly out of their hands, as they sit four points clear of the relegation zone, but having played three games games more than 22nd placed Rotherham.
For Rovers meanwhile, result looks to have all but secured their Championship status for another year, which while far from what they will have hoped for this season, will now be a rather significant relief.
With both these sides under pressure at the wrong end of the Championship, it was perhaps not surprisingly something of a tight start the game, with little in terms of chances in the opening ten minutes, save for one effort curled comfortably over from distance by Elliott for the hosts.
It would be Rovers who would have the next sight of goal on the 20-minute mark as well, Sam Gallagher winning the free-kick on the edge of the visitor’s area, with Adam Armstrong getting the ball over the wall, only for Derby ‘keeper David Marshall to react well to beat the ball away at his right-hand post.
Barely two minutes later, Derby would take the lead. Nathan Byrne, who had already looked a threat down the right, fired in a cross from that side of the pitch that ran all the across to the opposite byline, where Graeme Shinnie was able to send the ball back in, and with the host’s defence static, former Blackburn loanee Tom Lawrence was on hand to head home from close range.
Indeed, with captain Darragh Lenihan absent for fitness reasons, Rovers were forced to field two young loan players – Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Jarrad Branthwaite – at centre back, and that lack of experience started to tell, with Derby able to pile the pressure on a nervous looking Blackburn, although neither Shinnie nor Lawrence were able to double the Rams’ advantage with long range efforts as the game past the half-hour mark.
That second would be within inches of coming from Derby moments later, and with the visitors seemingly growing in confidence, some lovely build-up play ended with Byrne teeing up Patrick Roberts on the edge of the area, only for the Manchester City winger to just wide of Kaminski’s far post.
But having failed to make that dominance tell, Derby were pegged back shortly before the break as Rovers finally started to show signs of life in the match.
Ryan Nyambe did well to win a corner on the right, from which Barry Douglas produced a pinpoint set-piece delivery to the unmarked Sam Gallagher, who guided his header into the bottom corner to level for the hosts.
There was still time for Derby to go close to restoring their lead before the break, but Kaminski did well on the stretch to deny Louie Sibley from a tight angle after Rovers had only half cleared a corner themselves.
Both sides would see opening come and go early in the second half, as Roberts first took too long to his shot away after breaking into the Blackburn area, before a long ball forward from Kaminski found Lewis Holtby, whose knockdown found Armstrong in the Derby box, only for Marshall to save well with his legs from the Rovers top scorer.
As the game approached the hour-mark, Marshall would continue to thwart Armstrong, denying the striker first with his legs and then his hands, as first Lewis Travis and then substitute Joe Rothwell played in the Blackburn attacker, while a counter attack up the other end saw Shinnie and Kamil Jozwiak both fail to get shots away in promising positions.
Eventually though, Rovers would find a way past Marshall, and not for the first time this season, it would be an 18-year-old who got them out of trouble, as Andre Wisdom’s slip on the ball under pressure from Gallagher allowed Armstrong to find Elliott, and after taking his time to find space on the edge of the area, the teenager produced a shot that was too powerful for the Derby ‘keeper, nestling in the back of the net to put the hosts in front as they continued their search for a long-awaited and welcome win, as the Liverpool loanee marked his goal by unveiling a message in tribute to those tragically lost in the Hillsborough disaster 32 years ago this week.
But with 20 minutes to go this game was far from over, and just minutes after taking the lead Rovers were given a stark reminder of that, as Kaminski produced an excellent save to keep out a Lawrence free-kick before Byrne could only hit the post with the goal seemingly gaping on the rebound.
Indeed, Kaminski would again be called into action as the game entered its final five minutes, with the Blackburn ‘keeper getting down well to keep out substitute Colin Kazim-Richards’ header from another Shinnie delivery.
There was still time for Kaminski to punch a goalbound corner from Byrne off the line in stoppage time, as Rovers hung on for a win that puts them 11 points clear of the bottom three, and leaves Derby staring at the nigh on unthinkable scenario of having to rely on results elsewhere to keep them in the Championship for next season.